Person, place, and song (writing exercise #6)

We’re beginning a story with a song this time.

Page 23 in the book.

“The exercise: Write a short piece of fiction – about a thousand words. It may be a complete short story and it may be the beginning of a longer piece. But it starts as follows: The first time I (or Name) heard SPECIFIC SONG TITLE by SPECIFIC ARTIST OR GROUP, I (or Name) was down/up/over at PLACE and we were doing ACTION.

“The objective: To begin a story simply and specifically. Nothing grand, just close evidence that may lead somewhere. As I have said somewhere else, at greater length: solve your problems through physical detail.”

Here’s one of their examples:

  • The first time I heard mambo, I was in a Chevy Bel Aire, driving from Manhattan to Brooklyn with Zev’s son, my cousin Chester. We’d just graduated from high school and were going to a party. To save me the subway ride, Chester came to pick me up. He wore alligator shoes, like Zeb’s dancing shoes, and a chain bracelet of heavy silver, with a name tag, on his left wrist. It was a high school fashion, like penny loafers and bobby socks. Chester had spent time in Cuba, but mainly he lived with his mother in Brooklyn and hardly ever saw his father. Uncle Zev, I believe, didn’t love Chester too much, or not enough. This accounts for an eccentric showy element in his personality, which distinguished him in high school as a charming ass, irresponsible to girls, obnoxious to us, his voice full of knowing, in the manner of New York. He said we could catch Tito Puente this Wednesday at the Palladium, home of Latin music, 53rd and Broadway. Then Symphony Sid played a tune by Puente called “Ran Kan Kan.”-  “Viva La Tropicana” by Leonard Michaels 

I have to admit I’m not wild about this exercise, but hey, a good reason for doing some of these things is to get out of the comfort zone, right?

Here we go:

The first time I heard “People are Strange” by The Doors I was over on Rosewood Overlook, drinking beer for the very first time. I was fourteen, and most people came to Rosewood Overlook to make out – it was one of those kinds of places, straight out of Happy Days, where teenagers would park their cars and start kissing and doing other things that I myself I could only fantasize about. I was not there with a girl, but my friend, Benny, whose alcoholic father would never miss the beers he stole. It was the night before Halloween – “Mischief Night” they called it. Benny and I had gotten into a lot of trouble the year before by way of toilet papering and eggs, and we decided this year that the kind of mischief we’d get into would be of the liquid variety. Benny and I were on a steep part of a hill drinking lukewarm light beer from cans. It was was the sort of scenario that would give me a heart attack today, looking back, thinking of two barely teenagers drinking on such a hill, where one could easily go tumbling down into the sharp rosebushes at the bottom – where Rosewood Overlook got its name. We were out of view of the older kids in the cars, shaded by a tree. Benny was leaning against the trunk listening to his tape player – his headphones were the gigantic kind that go over the entire ears. “You hafta listen to this” he slurred to me, and put the monster earphones over my own head. I was wasted off of three beers – light beers no less – and the music took me away. All feelings of teenage angst and being misunderstood seemed to float way beyond Rosewood Overlook. About halfway through, when the words stop and there’s only the instrumentals, I closed my eyes and lay down on the slightly wet ground. I didn’t open them again until the song was long over, and I could have sworn I saw the wicked women in the stars.

By the way, we have three more of these “ways to start a story” before we move on to the next section of the book, on characterization.